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Does the Marijuana Justice Act Have a Chance? - By zruskin - August 24, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Does the Marijuana Justice Act Have a Chance?

When New Jersey Senator Cory Booker introduced the Marijuana Justice Act on Aug. 1, he knew its odds of becoming law were slim to none.

From a practical perspective, the bill — which would remove cannabis from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s scheduling system — is likely to fare no better (and possibly worse) than similar legislation introduced in past years, by the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders, Reps. Tom Garrett and Tulsi Gabbard, and Rep. Jared Polis. However, pushing the bill into law may not truly have been Sen. Booker’s intention.

Rather, it is quite possible that, with the Marijuana Justice Act, Sen. Booker instead seeks to make public his solution to the rift between state and federal stances on cannabis. While first and foremost calling for the de-scheduling of cannabis as other legislation has done, this new bill takes things a step further by incentivizing states that have not legalized marijuana to do so.

In an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times, Kerry Cavanaugh writes that “under Booker’s proposal, states that choose not to legalize marijuana would lose federal criminal-justice funding if their enforcement has a disproportionate effect on poor and minority individuals.” In essence, the bill would work to bridge the racial disparity over marijuana arrests, where according to the ACLU, Blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for possession.

Furthermore, as Politico notes, the bill would empower individuals with the right to sue if they feel they are the victims of a “disproportionate arrest or imprisonment rate.” The bill would also establish a community reinvestment fund to bring resources back into the communities “most affected by the war on drugs.”

Many in the cannabis industry have applauded Sen. Booker’s approach.

“This new bill is the first of what I imagine will be many proposed legislations to help curb the unjust war on drugs, and the resulting disproportionate arrest rates for people of color,” says High Times CEO Adam Levin.

Terra Tech CEO Derek Peterson is another industry leader who feels the Marijuana Justice Act addresses issues that other legislation has not.

“One of the most important factors that often get overlooked is the drug war casualties,” he says. “While many begin to monetize the blossoming industry, there are countless lives and families that have been ruined for non-violent drug offenses, the very same activities which are being organized and permitted at a state level across the country. This is by far the most responsible and proactive piece of legislation that we’ve seen, and we’re thrilled that the conversation for full federal legalization is now starting.”

Given that Republicans control Congress and that President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are both seen as foes of the cannabis movement, there is little reason to think Sen. Booker’s bill can find its way to passage. But by introducing something that comprehensively and directly addresses the targeting of minority populations by local law enforcement in relation to drug policy, it has brought to the forefront an issue that may ultimately prove to be the most pivotal in the fight to legalize cannabis on a national scale.

Krista Whitley, founder of the cannabis public relations firm Social Media Unicorn, sees the message within the Marijuana Justice Act as one that can ultimately serve to bring people together, within and beyond the cannabis space.

“I grew up in a small town as an enthusiastic prohibitionist for 30 years before becoming a cannabis activist,” she says. “I appreciate how hard it can be for non-cannabis consumers to appreciate why the end of the failed drug war is such a pivotal turning point for America. Sen. Booker’s leadership isn’t just leadership for the cannabis community, but it is the leadership for all Americans who believe in equality.”

With Sen. Booker considered a potential contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, the idea of a major candidate who sees drug policy reform as a gateway to reducing the disproportionate and predatory tactics of law enforcement toward minorities is a groundbreaking concept with vast implications.

While introducing the Marijuana Justice Act in a Facebook video, Sen. Booker noted that current U.S. drug laws “don’t make our communities any safer.”

Convectium managing partner Danny Davis agrees. “The government should not be incarcerating people by comparing cannabis to the dangers of legitimate Schedule I drugs,” he says. “Without this criminal element, and the negative externalities that come with it, widespread acceptance and legalization are the next logical steps. I have never heard a logical argument for listing cannabis as a Schedule I drug, so we thank Mr. Booker for giving us several logical ways to change it.”